By Hayley Versace
Images by Migration Media Underwater Imaging
Travelling from one side of our blue planet to the other, and from one extreme of Australia’s coast to the next, I have made it my mission to swim with and photograph marine life.
I am Hayley Versace of Migration Media Underwater Imaging, a marine biologist and zoologist, and the ocean is my home. Specialising in underwater photography and videography, my partner Ed Cardwell and I developed what we love into our careers.
This year, I have travelled from Western Australia’s North West Cape to the lush Sunshine Coast in Queensland, searching for the experience I have dreamed of my entire life: to swim with humpback whales. This is an experience that only a few places in the world offer and is unique to Sunreef Mooloolaba in Australia, who launched Australia’s first “Swim with Whales” experience in 2014.
My experiences of swimming with marine mammals have been some of the best interactions I have ever had in the ocean. Knowing full well how trying to swim with such intelligent animals pose challenges, I came to the coast for the season, hoping for three really good interactions over the four-month season of photographing on Sunreef tours. We are now only halfway in and so far Sunreef has far exceeded my expectations. I have already had so many unforgettable interactions with these mesmerising marine mammals that I feel completely thrilled with our decision to relocate east for the season.
After observing the mother with her calf for around 20 minutes, with Ed at the helm, she seemed comfortable enough with the boat, which allowed us to be dropped into the water. Full of excitement and anticipation from observing the playful calf tail slapping on the surface with its mother keeping a close eye on it, I had to calm myself before getting into the water, remembering to slide into the clear pleasant 20°C winter water. I waited patiently for our mother and her calf to approach. In the distance I could see a shadow, which grew and grew until there they were, right beside me. With her baby on her back she proudly paraded her new calf, still with a floppy dorsal fin, right in front of my camera lens.
Coming eye to eye with a proud mother and her calf has to be at the top of my list of interactions. This was a privilege I will never forget. This is what I had been waiting to see my whole life, and it has been totally worth the wait.
On some of my other trips with Sunreef, I have had amazing dolphin interactions as well as visited Flinders Reef, with huge turtles and beautiful colourful corals. I have also been diving on the HMAS Brisbane wreck on the 10-year anniversary of its scuttling. There is so much variety and life in these waters, with grey nurse sharks, giant Queensland groupers, big stingrays, eagle rays and schooling pelagic fish life, the wreck is a must-do on this part of the Sunshine Coast.
Being new to the Sunshine Coast, we have spent some time exploring the surrounding areas spending a day wandering through the beautiful pockets of tropical coastal areas such as Noosa Heads National Park, just 20 minutes away from Mooloolaba, making a great escape with breath-taking Australian beachscapes lining the coastal part of the light walking trail.
Strolling around the Sunshine Coast you wouldn’t even realise that it was winter, with warm sunny days abundant, with temperatures reaching above 25°C. We were able to spot monitor lizards, bearded dragons and many different birds from ospreys to stunning rainbow lorikeets.
With accommodation ranging from backpacker hostels to five-star luxury at Oceans Mooloolaba, the Sunshine Coast has something to offer everyone. From hinterland waterfalls to rugged surf coast and tranquil bays, the opportunities for a fantastic holiday abound. You can grab your beach bag and spend the day lazing around in the sun on the beach and then head to a local surf club for a bite to eat and beverage to end the day, or watch the sun go down over the stunning Glasshouse Mountains.
The Sunshine Coast has made this exciting trip so worthwhile, it will be hard to leave. But you can be assured, this is the first of many seasons we will spend swimming with humpback whales. The fact that Sunreef Mooloolaba offers people the chance to see these gentle giants in their natural environment gives me immense pleasure – I want everyone to get to know and understand just how special they are. With direct flights from Auckland to the Sunshine Coast, it just makes it that much more accessible to our Pacific neighbours.
Sunreef Mooloolaba Swim with Whales experiences run from July to October inclusive each year – to find out more or book visit www.sunreef.com.au or call +61 7 5444 666. For more information about Hayley and Migration Media Underwater Imaging visit www.migrationmedia.com.au